How to Buy Wines Online and Game the System​​



Headquartered in a small New York town, lot 18 was one of the first retailers to devise a system to develop a personalized wine profile.

In 2013, the company was relaunched as “Tasting Room by Lot18” and is now more of a wine club than a retailer.


Type: Wine Club Membership, personalized profile
Size: over 100 wines
Focus: all major wine regions, Basic Types
Specialties: Custom-made, artsy labels $13 to $20
Shipping: $19.99 per case
Discounts:  20%-30%, but it sets the base prices

Pros: inexpensive, entertaining themes & personal interaction
Cons: profiling system less than perfect. Private labels. Average quality custom-made wines

Rating: 3 stars

You may have seen ads that read like an article featuring Tasting Room. It frequently runs on Huffingtonpost and several other major sites. The ads tout this site as not only the fastest growing but also the best at sending wines tailored to each members’ taste.

Creating a wine profile begins with a so-called tasting kit, six wines, at the low price of $9.95 and all in small, 187 ml bottles. That’s the same size used by airlines for many years.

You rate the 6 wines, and Tastingroom will begin to develop
a personal tasting profile for you based on your initial ratings.

Then, here’s the deal, it sends you a case of wine every 3 months. That’s the main option. You can also specify 2 bottles a month or six every 2 months. And you can specify red or white only.

The wines sent are chosen to suit the taster’s profile. The more wines you buy and review, the more precise will be the wine selections.

Or at least that is the theory behind this personal profile concept.

As for prices, the story is that most wines are worth $20 but are offered at $13 on average.  Each case runs $149 plus $19.99 for shipping. A 6-bottle shipment will cost you roughly half that.

Since several other sites try to learn your taste preferences and tailor wines to your taste, let’s explore this approach.

The other popular sites are winc, firsleaf and nakedwines.

Most begin with a questionnaire asking you things like how do you like your coffee, your preference in chocolate, and your favorite fruit or berry...or similar basic questions.

One major weakness with the wine sample approach of Tastingroom is whether or not the wines are typical for their style. The 6 sample wines try to isolate or elevate basic components of sweetness, bitterness and body or texture. They are more like lab samples than real wine.

Here’s the fundamental problem: when dealing with wine’s components...alcohol, level of sweetness, bitterness, acidity, not all people perceive these elements at the same level.  In fact, rarely do two people agree on components, especially sweetness and bitterness.

Weekly Update:
Top 7 Web Retailers  

(Online only and does not include flash sales.)


Excellent finds/discounts in Ca wines and direct imports.

Recent selections demonstrate serious effort. Moved to the top with new Italian wines and super Ca wines like Cuvaison Pinot and the unusual Marsanne from Mendocino’s Campovida. Offering 2013 Prime Solum Napa Cabernet from Bill (William) Hill tipped it for me.

2. www.garigistewine.com

Totally eccentric, often brilliant selection of imports.

Upgraded this week after securing excellent wines under $10 and super older wines like Qupe 09 Syrah. Provides excellent background on Bordeaux vintages.

3. www.wine.com

Most complete and reliable site with decent discounts.

Showed well this week with 1 cent shipping option and much improved Bordeaux selection.


Solid, all purpose site, part of the Wine Enthusiast.

Broke into the top 7 list this with several exciting offers.

Among them, Ferrari Carano’s Siena under $20 and lovely, all-purpose Primal Roots red for under $10.


Solid for discounted Italian and Spanish wines.

Enjoyed a strong week with exciting Barolo and Brunello deals,and specials on imported  Roses. A double magnum of lovely Rose? Worked for me.


Rapidly improving. Best for CA wines.

Added hard to find wines from Tor and Jones Family, and Vermillion from Keplinger. Not all wines are discounted, this is more like a specialty online wine shop.


A go-to site if you love Zins and Chardonnay from Sonoma County.

This site recently showed remarkable versatility with good deals on McLaren Vale Grenache, RustRidge Napa Zin and Phelps Napa Cabernet.

For Fans of Oregon Pinot Noir

Just discovered an online deal for a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from a winery with a great track record for way under $20 a bottle. Find it at my go-to merchant for Oregon and Northwest wines.

2016 McKinlay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

$16.15 in any 12 bottle order

“A real beauty, bursting with vibrant freshness, red fruits, rose, and silkiness to spare. As balanced as it is incredibly tasty. Positively outstanding! " From Avalon Wines.

Looking for a great springtime white, full of flavor and no compromises in quality?

This Pinot Blanc has it all, including a great price by the case:

2017 Pinot Blanc Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley, $17.00 per bottle;/ $13.50 per bottle for a case with 1 cent shipping.

Check it out at


Behind nakedwines.com 

NakedWines may well be the biggest, most successful wine club. But it is also not your typical wine club.

Some might find it a little weird, and not just the name.

Founded by British entrepreneur Rowan Gormley in December 2008, Naked Wines operates as a crowdfunded business that has grown to over 300,000 subscribers.

Here's the PR stuff: "These subscribers, known as “angels,” help fund more than 130 independent winemakers across 14 countries in exchange for access to exclusive wines at reduced prices."

It was purchased in 2015 by Majestic Wines, the mega UK superstore for mega bucks. Majestic Wine trades from more than 200 outlets with 640,000 active customers.

Founder Roman Gormley is no newcomer to online sales and wine clubs. He was a force behind Virgin Wines which was part of Virgin Air. He was pushed out at some point by the UK based Laithwaite’s wine company.

Don't know any of the details, but it is interesting to note that the Laithwaite family now operates a major online wine retail site and wine club in the US and Australia.

Nakedwine’s USA division has an office and warehouse in southern Napa.

But let’s enjoy a WTF pause here.

How does crowdfunding work, you ask? Well, each month subscribers deposit $40 into their account and they can apply funds from that account to purchase wines.

Before you say, “This is stupid,” read on because there are a few steps along the way.

The first step is to sign up for the introductory 6-wine pack which costs $59.99 and includes shipping. 

About Us

We are seeking the best wines available at the best prices.  And you dont have to leave home or the office.

Whether you are new to wine or a long-time collector, whether you are on a modest budget or are among the one-percenters, this Guide offers lots of good stuff:

Best deals of the day
Helpful background information
 Insider tips
 Money-saving buying strategies
Ratings & evaluations of the major sites
Frequent updates

Savvy Online Wine Shopping 101

Real Discounts or Bogus Prices?

Are Wine Clubs for you?

Trending Winery Direct

Looking for A Special Wine Club?

Here is A Hidden Gem in the Silicon Valley Area:

Sarah’s Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation

Quick View:

Strong on small-batch Pinot Noir, Estate Chardonnay, and several Estate Rhone wines. A true artisan winery.

Pinot Noirs from 5-6 appellations….will please any Pinot fanatic.
Cozy and friendly, very modest facility with tons of country charm.

Members receive 3 wines 4 times a year and can select the type: red, white or mixed.

Prices are relatively modest, ranging from $20 for a few white wines to $48 for the high end Pinots.

Members receive a 25% discount on shipped wines; 20% off all other wines.

Wine tastings for members and your guests are comped.

Wonderful offering of tasting room exclusives….small batch wines.

Wine country feel as visitors pass through the small 28-acre estate vineyard as they meander up to the tasting center.

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In the familiar digital world of coupons, member discounts and promo codes, we still need to ask ourselves: “How can online wine dealers knock 30%-70% off retail prices?

That’s a reasonable question to raise and it’s normal to be a little skeptical.

It is also normal to wonder if the wines fell off the back of the truck, were left sitting on the Houston docks in July, are total crap, or are truly a treasure trove discovered in a dark cellar.

Here are several reasonable explanations...                

Over the last three years I’ve been tracking many online wine clubs as part of my reporting on online wine retailers. As the direct to consumer clubs from wineries continue to grow, we are seeing an increase in independent clubs being offered by publications like the Wall Street Journal and airlines along with totally independent e-commerce businesses like the Wine of the Month Club, Vinesse, and Winc.

The Yelp-like reviews for these e-commerce only wine clubs are mixed and a few are downright hostile. 

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Point Scores: Helpful or Pointless?


Once upon a time in a kingdom far away, only Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator dueled over which one could score the most wines 90 points or more.

Then along came Stephen Tanzer, The Wine Enthusiast, Vinous and others to jump on the 100 point scoring system with a steady barrage of 90 point scores in their publications.  The result is total chaos.

Final Answer: Most often POINTLESS

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As I see it, this Guide is a cross between a website and a newsletter.

Given the fast-changing nature of the subject, it will be regularly revised and updated.

With wine, there is no such thing as a gifted palate or a natural born taster. 

There are no right or wrong answers about what to drink and when to drink a wine you like.

More expensive wines are not necessarily better than cheaper wines.

 Older wines are not better than young wines, and there never has been any system devised that can guarantee wine quality.